Diet and Exercise as Healing Practices

For anyone who doesn’t know me personally, you might have noticed the many references on this blog recently to Germany (we are now at the tail end of a summer spent in Cologne, a city in Northwestern Germany), but there’s something you might now know…something that happened during our trip that has had a profound effect on the life of our family, and is the reason I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks. In the early hours of July 4th, my 6-year-old daughter Christine fell 9 feet from the loft bed where she was sleeping and was severely injured. It’s a very long story, but the ultimate result was that she sustained a skull fracture, a concussion, a temporary facial palsy as a result of the swelling pressing on her nerves, and a broken collarbone.

Not exactly the adventure we were looking for when we set off on our European summer. Also definitely not the July 4th I was planning…or the July 5th, or 6th, or 7th, or…you get the idea.

After five traumatic days in a German hospital, our little girl came “home” to our rented apartment and has been recovering remarkably well for someone with such serious injuries. Her emotions, too, have regulated fairly well after this extreme ordeal–she really is an incredibly resilient person, and always has been.

She doesn’t get it from me.

I’ve still been struggling with negativity, fear, and doubt regarding my daughter’s injuries. I wish I had my husband’s optimism for our daughter’s future to be nothing but bright. I’m getting there, but as someone who is naturally a bit of an Eeyore, it’s an uphill battle.

Thankfully, I have some resources. First of all, as a Christian, I have comfort and peace from my relationship with Jesus Christ, and a belief that throughout this ordeal, God is in control. I have had a strong sense that my daughter has plenty left to do on this Earth–even when things did not look good for her immediately after her injury. Second, I have some very dear friends and loved ones who have offered support, checked in every day from afar, and have even sent money for meals and for me to get a massage. (I will say that you never know who will come out of the woodwork to help when you ask for it on Facebook. I was floored to receive super encouraging messages from two high school acquaintances in the midst of this sad time…and equally surprised to hear nothing from a few friends I consider close.)

I see how it is…

But since my faith and my friends aren’t really what this blog is about, I wanted to share a little bit about a couple of other resources that have to do with the healthy lifestyle message I try to proffer on A Love Letter to Food (can I use the word “proffer” without sounding absurd? Also, can you please ignore my Desserts section when I’m talking about my healthy lifestyle message? Mmkay, thanks.)

Of the constellation of practices that are helping me heal emotionally in the wake of my daughter’s injury, diet and exercise have definitely played a role. As for diet, it might sound surprising, but I don’t mean that my diet has been all sunshine and rainbows and that’s helped me feel great. Besides…please allow me this Derek Zoolander moment… I don’t think sunshine and rainbows are edible.

Anyway, what I mean is that, as a part of my healing process, I have been giving myself some extra grace when it comes to my diet–letting go a little of my usual vigilance over my eating habits. As a temporary measure, I’m finding this a relief. One less thing to worry about. In fact, due to some unfortunate timing, my son and I were scheduled to take a 2-day trip to Rome departing only a few days after my daughter was released from the hospital. After a lot of agonizing, I decided we should still go (and I absolutely don’t regret it–it was a life-changing 48 hours). While there, I decided to let myself have the extra serving of gelato, even though I wasn’t that hungry–and I normally never eat if I’m not hungry. Other indulgences included chocolate croissants for breakfast and a crazy-good lasagna dinner. “When in Rome,” right?

I’m sure eating appropriately for emotional healing is different for every person in or recovering from crisis, and may shift as the situation shifts–and I’m certainly not advocating drowning your troubles in gelato all the time. In general, research has revealed that healthy eating has been shown to improve mood, (and, for the record, the Mediterranean diet seems to be the best option to stave off anxiety and depression). But “comfort foods” get their name for a reason: sometimes, in the short term, they really can help us feel better, especially if we associate them with happy memories. And I certainly am going to associate gelato with this happy memory of eating it with my son on the streets of Rome.

Exercise, too, is something that for the first week after my daughter’s injury fell by the wayside. Self-care just didn’t mean going for a brisk jog in those first few days when I was getting three hours of sleep a night and spending all day at my little girl’s bedside. But now that Christine is on the mend, I’ve begun to return to my usual routine of yoga and running. Today, after the kind of run that makes all the song lyrics feel like they’re all singing your story (“and I don’t really care if nobody else beliEEEEEves, cause I’ve still got a lotta fight left in MEEEE!”) I read this awesome article–please, please read it–that confirmed the rejuvenating feelings running always brings. Aerobic activity literally clears your mind by generating new neurons in the area of your brain linked to emotion regulation.

Hey, here’s a pic of me on my run with no makeup! You’re welcome.

My takeaway: in times of crisis when emotional healing is needed, listen to your body when it comes to diet and exercise. And then, if after awhile, your body is still telling you to eat fried chicken and Twinkies and get under 500 steps in a day, be gentle with yourself as you ease into healthy habits. And of course, for anyone in crisis, please seek professional help for emotional and physical issues.

What are the diet and exercise habits that have brought emotional healing in your life?

3 thoughts on “Diet and Exercise as Healing Practices

  1. I like this post a lot. I think it comes down to balance. When I was growing up and things were very chaotic in my household, I used food and exercise as a means of control when everything else was out of control. It turned out to be less than healthy or beneficial (surprise). I think that I’ve swung to both extremes, but when I truly listen to what my body needs it leads to better emotional and mental health overall. I also tend to be very regimented, and when times are stressful (like, being back in school….) sometimes I lean to extremes in order to regain control over a schedule that is racing and out of control. Nonetheless, it has been helpful to have friends reinforce the need for a physical and mental break. To “let loose” for a little while in order to allow some internal processing to occur. It is also very helpful to have a sort of schedule or regimen to which to return once your equilibrium is being re-established, and many people do not have that schedule. Having my morning yoga or walk (can’t run much anymore after the military) helps me to feel centered and helps with an immediate sense of accomplishment in the mornings, even when I have a very stressful week. Thanks for sharing your process.

    • Thanks for sharing, Elicia! I agree about balance…and about having a routine in place to fall back on when difficult times hit, because that’s certainly not an easy time to start healthy habits.

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